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Newfoundland Regiment chaplain is centre stage in "Ours" reboot

Opera on the Avalon’s “Ours” is set for a reboot of the original show from 2016 at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. Adam Fisher (left), who is reprising his role of Edward in the 2018 production and Aaron Sheppard, who is reprising his role of Charlie Whitten, will be part of the cast during the Nov. 9 and Nov. 11 performances. —
Opera on the Avalon’s “Ours” is set for a reboot of the original show from 2016 at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. Adam Fisher (left), who is reprising his role of Edward in the 2018 production and Aaron Sheppard, who is reprising his role of Charlie Whitten, will be part of the cast during the Nov. 9 and Nov. 11 performances. — Contributed

Opera coming to St. John's Arts and Culture Centre tells the story of Thomas Nangle

It has been 100 years since the Newfoundland Regiment was decimated at Beaumont Hamel.

The story has been told countless times and in many forms — but none like this one.

The work done by chaplain Thomas Nangle, after the battle that nearly wiped out an entire generation of Newfoundlanders, is still spoken of today by people across the globe.

That story is told in Opera on the Avalon’s reboot of “Ours,” a drama in two acts that tracks the social, political, and emotional aftermath of the battle of Beaumont Hamel.

“Have you ever wondered what Nangle went through at this time? Who does he go to when he has to struggle with what he has seen and must guide people through as chaplain to the Newfoundland Regiment?’’ said Cheryl Hickman, general and artistic director of Opera on the Avalon.

“This was a seminal event in our history. As a Newfoundland company, this showcases our history through art. There is a sound a human voice makes that nothing else can. That voice, capturing the spirit of our history, is something special.’’

Hickman said this is why people remember and why we grieve at times when things happen that we don’t expect.

“Nangle’s life path changed dramatically by the course of the war. He did amazing things for Newfoundland and Labrador, and those things come out in this story,” she said.

“Ours” was composed by Juno-nominated Canadian composer John Estacio with a libretto by Newfoundland Governor General Award-winning playwright Robert Chafe.

“This is an opera about grief and remembrance. Of how people move on, pick up and how they found a way to do so after going through that much trauma.”

Directed by Glynis Leyshon and conducted by Judith Yan, the cast includes Andrew Love as Thomas Nangle, Gordon Gietz as Archbishop Roche and Lara Ciekiewicz as May.

Nangle’s story of sacrifice, hardship and renewal is the perfect human embodiment of Newfoundland’s journey through the war, and through its horrific aftermath.

“I am not sure he wanted to help, but he had to help. A line I recite in the performance says it best: ‘I had no choice but to go,’” Love said.

“This is an opera about grief and remembrance. Of how people move on, pick up and how they found a way to do so after going through that much trauma.”

Finding out how that resonates was important to Love.

To help understand his role, Love set out to get the information he needed to channel Nangle’s history and emotion into the performance.

“As a (come-from-away) raised in Calgary, I hadn’t heard much about Beaumont Hamel, so when I went digging to research the role, I learned so much about not only Nangle but about all those who went to war,’’ Love said.

"I learned about the loss their families went through, a loss that touched everyone here. I didn’t want to take that lightly."

Following the war, Nangle was named to the Imperial War Graves Commission where he led efforts to properly bury the remains of many members of the lost regiment across Europe.

He established the existing five war memorial sites across Europe, including Beaumont Hamel, as well as the Newfoundland National War Memorial in St. John’s, that has become the Trail of the Caribou, the symbol used for memorials at each site.

“Right after the war ended, he procured the land quite quickly at Beaumont Hamel. He knew the significance,’’ Love said.

“Nangle had the foresight and humility to understand what people needed.’’

“Ours” will be performed at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre on Nov. 9 and 11.

sam.mcneish@thetelegram.com

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